As we write this post, it’s late January–3 weeks into 2017. It’s officially the new year, but it’s still early enough that we can look back over our shoulder and see the (albeit, shrinking) land mass of 2016.
It was a good year for us; our team grew by 3 new hires, we had a total of 330 production deploys (within 261 working days), we were fortunate to connect with new clients–among them Danaher, Diamondback, and Radiant Vision Systems–as well as to embark on ambitious new projects with returning clients.
There was quite a bit of change in 2016, but with our feet now firmly in 2017, we’re eagerly looking ahead at what’s to come.
The Evolution of Digital Marketing
At the beginning of last year, we published a “baseline” of the 6 areas of digital marketing any business needed to be engaged in to stay relevant (you can read more about the MarTech Baseline here). Specifically, we said that ignoring digital marketing to doggedly pursue older tactics like print brochures and industry events was “about as successful as doing needlepoint when trying to communicate to current and potential clientele.”
Most of the teams we work with are marketers who want to grow their online presence, and we’ve seen that digital marketing is steadily eclipsing offline marketing tactics. As technology continues to evolve, we expect those changes to continue nudging and shaping the marketing industry in response.
We’ve read the writing on the wall, and as we take our positions at the starting line of 2017, here are some of the changes we’re anticipating in the new year.
1. First, Mobile
The usage statistics are very clear: since 2014, users spend more time browsing the internet from mobile devices than they do from desktop computers (according to comScore). But there’s a deficit between the amount of mobile users online, and the amount of websites configured to support those mobile users with mobile responsive designs.
Mobile technology has pushed the way we interact with the internet, moving it further from desktop first interactions. An example of this is Google’s announcement last year that they will be implementing a second, mobile search engine index for users searching on mobile devices. With this new standard handed down from Google, we expect to see mobile first strategies increase.
2. Changes to Baseline Marketing
We’ve said before that the 6 essentials necessary to form a baseline digital marketing strategy are:
- A Modern CMS Powering a Mobile Responsive Website
- Email Marketing, List Management, and List Building Plan
- Maintaining Active Social Channels
- Content and Writing
- Digital Ad Campaign
- Search Engine Optimization
And we don’t expect that to change, but we do expect those tools to become more sophisticated. Each of these tools, in some way, are valuable because of the way they collect, organize, and utilize data.
An example of this is personalization. Personalization has become one of the standards of user experience online, and we’ve seen MarTech shift to accommodate this. We’re working on a series of new content related to personalization online and how to integrate third party tools with a content management system like Drupal to provide customers with content specific to their context.
The insurgence of AI is something else we’re watching, as marketing technology providers (like Salesforce) add AI features to their software. We expect that sophistication to have an impact on where marketers spend their time and budget, and how it affects the relationship between marketers and audiences.
3. Social Media: The Big Question Mark of 2017
Social media, both because of how it’s used and how the software itself continues to develop, is the biggest question of 2017. It also poses the greatest vulnerability to brands, especially for those who missed getting on the bandwagon 5 years ago.
Social media still presents a challenge as businesses try to leverage it in their own strategies. The shift in how people engage with social media means that businesses trying to use older social media strategies are seeing declining conversion rates. And other businesses, a majority of them B2B, question how relevant social media can really be to their audiences and business model. Fitting social media into the customer cycle is an issue that has to be readdressed as social culture changes.
Many social media platforms are financially supported by selling unique user information (Facebook, Instagram) to marketers. This has maybe shaped social media just as much as its social users have, and this is especially visible in Microsoft’s recent acquisition of LinkedIn. Considered the professional social platform, we, like many others in the B2B sphere, are looking to see if this acquisition will mean developments for B2B businesses looking to leverage a social media platform that may actually reach their target audiences.
4. Building Up MarTech Stacks: New Changes to Old Tools
Maintaining an online web presence requires marketers to maintain a total perspective that can have them moving between a dozen different tools.
Even as a small business, a recent audit of our own MarTech stack revealed that we are constantly running on 35 different systems to drive our marketing.
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Integrating those tools centralizes control, but as of now many marketers still find it easier to just move between the tools individually.
Most likely because of this, we’re seeing micro features added to tools that people are already using to round out their system. We’re wondering if this change will spur a movement away from à la carte platforms, focusing instead on improving the efficiency of working from 10 different systems.
Integrating each of these small tools, the Boomerangs and the Mouseflow tools, may not make lucrative sense. Integrations can be expensive to build, and even if the system is small, they will be difficult to completely integrate because they go in many different environments.
5. The Year of Migrations
We expect this next year to be marked by higher numbers of website migrations as the dust settles around the launch of both Drupal 8 and Magento 2.0 (more on this to come). Over the last year, the greatest deterrent for migrations has been the fact that the migration process itself isn’t an easy undertaking.
While Drupal 8 provides admin with a system that’s much easier to use, it’s so different from previous Drupal versions that quite a lot has to be rewritten when migrating to D8. Any custom modules will have to be rebuilt after migrating. Magento has faced the same issue; as of now, there’s no great path available to merchants looking to migrate from version 1.0 to 2.0 that doesn’t mean losing extensions and data. Any merchants attempting to migrate may face a situation less like a migration and more like building a new website from scratch.
Eventually, however, both Magento and Drupal will stop supporting their older systems, necessitating a migration.
6. Open-Source Customization
Right now, the biggest divide between platforms like Drupal and Squarespace, or Magento and Shopify, is open-source. SaaS services like Shopify and Squarespace are much easier to set up, but any growing business will hit a customization ceiling when they’ve reached the limitations that come with not owning your website’s code. Faced with this limitation, we’re wondering if SaaS websites will find a way to provide customization opportunities for further growth.
There’s a whole tier of businesses that a SaaS solution like Shopify would make sense for, as some are just too small to optimize on all the add-ons that make an open-source platform the better decision. As those businesses expand, they outgrow the structure and capability of their SaaS website, migrating away to an open-source solution. We’ll be keeping an eye on SaaS platforms to see if they take any strides to overcome those limitations to grow along with the businesses that utilize them.
7. The Next Evolution: What We’re Most Looking Forward To
How people will interact with the internet is possibly the most hazy, and intriguing, question on the horizon. The continued development of new technology–voice search and voice control, wearable technology–poses a possible shift away from the keyboard. As of now, we’re seeing brands try to figure out how to utilize these changes and take advantage of new, high-touch point interactions.
On the cusp of 2017, there are quite a few developments we’re eagerly waiting to come to fruition. As the year progresses, we’ll be keeping an eye open, watching the constant evolution of the internet experience.